Monday, August 31, 2015

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield - Book Notes

One of my favorite books for inspiring writing, or any creative act is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Steven is also the author of a number of books, most notably The Legend of Bagger Vance and The Tides of War.

Pressfield also known for his burden to teach young writers how to work, and he primarily does that through his own story of "going pro" when he was around 40. Before that, by his own admission, he was pretty purposeless in the world. He has a great story with many insights and he tells it well in The War of Art and in this book. If you only have time for one, I'd read The War of Art first.

Below are some of my notes and reflections from the book. Bold quotes take under two minutes to read.


9-Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs upon ourselves and on the reason for our existence. Those first stirrings of ambition saved me and put me on the path to becoming an artist and a professional.


by 'Shadow Career,' he means whatever work you're doing that's keeping you busy but keeping you from doing the real work you know you should be doing.
13-If you're dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling. 
24-When we turn pro, the energy that went into the Shadow Novel goes into the real novel. 
69-Sometimes it's easier to be a professional in a shadow career than it is to turn pro in our real calling.


22-3-The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional. (Addictions are) distractions, displacement activities. We enact addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires hard work. It's hard. It hurts.
35-Distraction and displacement seem innocent on the surface. But lives go down the tubes one repetition at a time, one deflection at a time, one hundred and forty four characters at a time. 
39-Addiction wants to keep us shallow and unfocused. so it makes the superficial and the vain intoxicating... It can be fatal, keeping up with the Kardashians.


5-Turning pro is free, but its not easy... 
Turning pro is free, but it's not without cost.
Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice. 
71-When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.
72-When we turn pro, everything become simple. Our aim centers on the ordering of our days in such a way that we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past.
75-Turning pro is like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy. We never forget where we were when it happened.
43-One day, I typed THE END. That's the moment when I knew I had beaten Resistance. I had finished something.
116-[on Rosanne Cash's decision to go pro] The other thing about the changes Rosanne made after her dream is that she didn't make those changes to earn more money, or achieve greater fame, or to sell more records. [amen]. She made those changes out of respect for her craft. She made them to become a better artist and a more powerful musician.


53-The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of.
54-The difference lies in the way the professional acts in the face of fear.
57-Paradoxically, the amateur's self-inflation prevents him from acting. he takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself.
58-The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction. The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.
62-The amateur believes that, before she can act, she must receive permission from some Omnipotent Other - a lover or spouse, a parent, a boss, a figure of authority. The amateur sits on a stool... waiting to be discovered.
66-Have you ever followed a guru or a mentor? I have. I've given my power away to [others]. I've sat by the phone. I've waited for permission. I've tuned in work and waited, trembling, the judgment of others.
93-The amateur tweets. The pro works.
97-The amateur spends his time in the past and the future. He permits himself to fear and to hope. The pro has taught himself to banish those distractions.


  1. The Pro shows up every day.
  2. ...stays on the job all day.
  3. committed over the long haul.
  4. For the Pro, the stakes are high and real.
  5. The Pro is... Patient
  6. The Pro seeks order.
  7. The Pro demystifies
  8. The Pro acts in the face of fear.
  9. ...accepts no excuses.
  10. ...plays it as it lays.
  11. prepared
  12. ...does not show off
  13. ...dedicates himself to mastering technique.
  14. ...does not hesitate to ask for help.
  15. ...does not take failure or success personally.
  16. ...does not identify with his or her instrument
  17. ...endures adversity.
  18. ...self-validates.
  19. ...reinvents himself.
  20. recognized by other professionals.


103-The Monk glimpses the face of God not by scaling a peak in the Himalayas, but by sitting  still in silence... It seems counterintuitive, but it's true: in order to achieve "flow," magic, "the zone," we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we're ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.
106-When we do the work for itself alone (I know how easy that is to say and how hard it is to do), we're like that Marine who sleeps in a foxhole in the freezing rain but who knows a secret that only he and his brothers and sisters share. When we do work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to in the beginning. It turns into a practice."
107-[He talks about dedicating an entire year to writing, called his "year in the wilderness"] I was enjoying myself. Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing, but I did. I was learning. I was getting better. The work became, in its own demented way, a practice. It sustained me, and it sustains me still.
44-In the end, it didn't matter. That year made me a pro. It gave me, for the first time in my life, an uninterrupted stretch of month after month that was mine alone, that body knew about but me, when I was truly productive, truly facing my demons, and truly working my [stuff]. That year has stuck with me.


109-Practice has space, and that space is sacred.
110-When we convene day upon day in the same space at the same time, a powerful energy builds up around us. This is the energy of our intention, of our dedication, of our commitment.
111-The key, according to Gladwell, is that the practice be focused.
78-"Refine your skills to support your instincts."

No comments: